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Credentials...Are You a Journey Learner or Hungry for Alphabet Soup?

By Ray Sclafani | May 6, 2014


Financial advisors often approach our coaches inquiring about whether or not they should sit for a particular credentialing exam. We hold credentialing in very high regard. Our executive coaches are all credentialed by the International Coach Federation (ICF), at the highest levels of Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Master Certified Coach (MCC).


That said, many of the designations that financial advisors aspire to obtain are not necessarily requirements for advisors in the same way the ICF credentials are mandated for the coaches we hire. In coaching financial advisors, we take a slightly more objective approach when considering the necessity of pursuing these credentials, based on the reason for pursuing them rather than the credentials themselves.


Ambitious financial professionals who are curious about people and committed to their craft consistently find the time to acquire new knowledge. It’s not about having alphabet soup after your name, it’s about adding value to the lives of others by truly becoming an expert in your field. Like our coaches, our best clients spend hundreds of hours maintaining their credentialing, but it’s not about the end goal of obtaining it, it’s about what you gain in the journey getting to that point.


We’ve seen many advisors sit for exams and use the credentialing to their advantage from everything in the knowledge they gain, through to how they brand and present themselves to clients. These advisors continually grow through the experience of studying as journey learners, by applying, evaluating, and reapplying what they’ve learned. Their careful consideration of the content along the way makes them much more likely to pass the test, but, more importantly, it provides a richer, more knowledgeable experience in terms of how they apply that knowledge to help their clients once they pass.


We’re also aware of advisors who commit considerable sweat equity without passing exams as a result of cramming without applying the material to the larger context of their business and their clients. This isn’t to say that sitting for these exams can’t be a worthwhile use of their time, far from it. Rather, it’s a decision that should be made carefully, within the full context of the situation at hand. So consider the following questions carefully before buying your books:


What is the return on investment? Many of these exams are difficult and cover so much material that the hours necessary to commit to studying are extremely taxing. It can cut into your personal life, or impact your level of engagement with your clients. If you aren’t gaining the knowledge to directly benefit your clients, you may want to reconsider sitting for the exam.


Does it align with your goals for the year or your career? If client acquisition or work-life balance are two of your main objectives this year, tacking on an additional 20 hours of work per week to commit to studying probably isn’t the best idea. Often deciding to take these exams on a whim is indicative of an attempt to ignore or cover up dissatisfaction in other areas of your practice, which should actually be the greater focus for the time being.


Is there more in it for you than meets the eye? Many firms offer to reimburse you for study materials or prep courses in the event that you pass your exams. Some will even cover the cost of your exam fee. Factor these things in and consider how they might further incentivize you to do well, not just for the initials after your name but for the enrichment of yourself, your business, and the benefit of your clients.


Is experience a better classroom? Give your practice a thorough evaluation and consider what opportunities really open up to you by gaining the extra credentials. Does it align with what you are currently doing? Is it something you need immediately? Will it allow you access to a network of clients you aren’t currently working with, or increase your performance and ability to help your current clients?


What’s the fit with your particular brand? While often the more established credentials seem the most appealing, consider your expertise and area of focus before jumping into something just because everyone else is doing it. It might be that a less well-known designation like the RICP, Retirement Income Planning Professional, might be a better fit for your business or brand, so don’t just go with what seems like the obvious choice. 

Coaching Questions from this Article:

  1. Have you fully considered the benefits that credentialing in a certain area may or may not afford you? Further, have you fully considered how it will impact your clients?
  2. Are you prepared to fully commit, as a journey learner, to the knowledge covered on the exam, beyond the purpose of passing the exam itself?
  3. How do these designations align with your most important goals for the year?
  4. How differently will your clients, your firm, your centers of influence, and clients view you once you achieve this particular credential?



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